Fire up that snowblower – don’t wait until the first storm hits


We had our first snowfall of the season yesterday … OK, depending on where you live, it was only a few wimpy flakes. But take it as Mother Nature’s gentle advance warning: Winter is on it’s way – get your snowblower ready.

If you have a snowblower, take it out of storage now and test it out – you don’t want to get caught short in the first storm. Popular Mechanics has some tips for how to start your snowblower – including some tips for blowers that are stubborn about starting.

If you don’t have a snowblower, but you have one on your Santa wish list, this video offers  snowblower buying guide tips from Consumer Reports. It’s interactive so you can skip to different chapters. Learn about which type of snow blower best suits your property. The video breaks down what you need to know about size, power source – gas, battery or electric -, key features, trouble shooting, maintenance and how to ensure a smooth start-up each season.

Operating your snowblower safely

Every year, emergency rooms see about 6,000 injuries related to snow blower accidents, many of them amputations. Experts say that most snowblower injuries occur when snow is heavy, wet and deeper than 6 inches – those are conditions that lead to clogging in snow removal machines. Most injuries are hand injuries to the dominant hand.

Whether you are operating a snowblower for your home or your business, the Outdoor Power & Equipment Institute (OPEI) urges you to operate your snow blowing equipment safely. They offer a great list of tips for preparing your machine before it snows, and the following snow blowing safety tips:

  • KEY SAFETY TIP: Never put your hands inside the auger or chute. Use a clean out tool (or stick) to unclog snow or debris from your snow thrower. Your hands should never go inside the auger or chute.
  • Turn OFF your snow thrower if you need to clear a clog. If you need to remove debris or unclog snow, always turn off your snow thrower. Wait for all moving parts to come to a complete stop before clearing any clogs or debris.
  • Only use your snow thrower in visible conditions. Never operate the snow thrower without good visibility or light.
  • Aim your snow thrower with care. Never throw snow toward people or cars. Do not allow anyone to stand in front of your snow thrower. Keep children or pets away from your snow thrower when it is operating.
  • Use extreme caution on slopes and hills. Use caution when changing directions on slopes. Do not attempt to clear steep slopes.
  • Know where your cord is. If you have an electric powered snow thrower, be aware of where the power cord is at all times. Avoid tripping. Do not run over the power cord.
  • Keep pets and children inside. Kids and pets may love to play in the white stuff, but it’s best to keep them inside your home and under supervision while you are using your snow thrower to clear a path or drive. Do not allow them to play in the snow as it is tossed out of the snow thrower’s chute.

If you like to remove your snow the old-fashioned manual way, be sure to see our prior post on Snow shoveling 101: Best shovels, best techniques.

Deck maintenance tips & tools: Don’t risk a collapse!


deck-repairSadly, deck collapses have been making the news lately. There was the tragic deck collapse in California that resulted in 6 deaths; one in Ohio that injured 8 students in the spring, and a collapse in North Carolina this past weekend that injured up to a few dozen family members who were posing for a photo at a holiday gathering. A similar family portrait scenario happened to an Indiana family last Christmas.

AP requested deck collapse statistics from Consumer Product Safety Commission, who reported that since 2003:

  • 6,500 people have been injured in porch and deck failures
  • 29 fatalities occurred
  • 4,600 emergency room visits were associated with deck collapses
  • 1,900 emergency room visits were associated with porch failures

Decks are exposed to the elements and just like roofs or any other part of your house, may require replacement or repair when they are older. Whether you are a homeowner or a business that hosts gatherings or meetings on a porch or deck, be sure to:

  • Check your deck regularly for wear & tear. Experts advise a professional inspection
  • Hire only licensed professionals if you need repairs, and be sure you are in compliance with codes & permits
  • Learn the load-bearing capacity of your deck and do not overload
  • Make sure that your homeowners insurance or business insurance coverage is up-to-date!

Here are some resources to help you learn more about deck inspection

Preventing frozen pipes: tips from the experts


Depositphotos_9251576_xsIn frigid weather, the the common wood frog adapts by literally putting itself into a deep freeze. In a miracle of biology, these adaptive frogs freeze solid and their hearts stop, but they come back to life with the spring thaw.

While frozen frogs are pretty amazing, frozen pipes are anything but. If you turn on your faucet in the winter and nothing comes out, there’s a good chance you may have frozen pipes, particularly if the weather has been very cold. Frozen pipes can be a costly claim on your homeowners policy, but a few annual maintenance steps can help prevent problems. Even if you didn’t prepare well before the winter and now find yourself in frigid weather pattern, there are steps you can take to protect your pipes. The Red Cross offers excellent tips for preventing frozen pipes as well as tips for how to thaw pipes out should they freeze. Here are a few of their tips during cold weather:

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
  • When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

FEMA also has some excellent tips for before, during and after winter storms and extreme cold.

In a short video clip, This Old House plumbing and heating contractor Richard Trethewey shows various ways to prevent and thaw frozen pipes.

Here are some other video clips from This Old House that will help you keep your water pipes in good condition and prevent problems.

How to Drain Pipes for the Winter
How to Install a Frost-Proof Faucet with PEX Piping

Spring cleaning’s an age-old global tradition: get tips from the pros


In the spring, there’s an almost universal urge to clean and maintain our homes. People, like bears, seem to emerge from their winter dens just as the days begin to grow longer. There may even be a biological explanation: in the winter, our lack of exposure to sunlight causes the pineal gland to produce melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that makes us sleepy, kicking in every night around 9 pm. However, during winter’s shorter, dreary days, our melatonin production can increase, followed by a decrease as the days get longer and sunnier. As a result, people tend to feel more energetic in the spring and cleaning up is a natural outlet for that energy.

There are also a wide variety of cultural traditions around spring cleaning, most notably from the Near and Middle East. In Iranian tradition, spring marks the ancient festival of Nowruz, which is preceded by Spring cleaning, or Khouneh Tekouni, which literally means ‘shaking the house’. Extensive spring-cleaning is a national tradition observed by almost every household in Iran. In the Jewish tradition, the Passover holiday occurs in the spring and is marked by removing all leavened (yeast risen) breads from the house. It’s important to make sure that not even a crumb of leavened bread remains, and so Passover is always preceded by two weeks of extensive spring cleaning. In keeping with America’s great heritage as a cultural melting pot, it’s believed that these two traditions may have contributed to the roots of our national interest in spring cleaning.

Whether it’s a biological imperative or a cultural tradition, spring is a great time to deep clean your home and catch up on maintenance tasks that may have been neglected over the winter months. Martha Stewart offers a helpful checklist to cover spring cleaning tasks (PDF) and Bob Vila has a list for home maintenance. However you do your spring cleaning and maintenance, be careful! Spring cleaning can be dangerous (PDF) – the linked list points out common hazards. If one of your employees or helpers suffers a spring cleaning related injury, remember that under your liability clause, the costs are covered by your homeowners policy. To make sure that your policy is up to date, call your independent insurance agency today.

Bats in the Belfry: Home maintenance nightmare


During a new roof installation, some Florida roofers ran into a surprise when they were tearing up the old one. Make sure that checking your roof is a routine part of maintenance.

Bats have an undeservedly bad reputation in public lore (well, except for Batman) but they are important little critters that keep the insect population down, have a role in pollination and seed distribution, and play other important ecological functions. Because of this, they are a protected species under Massachusetts law, and most other state laws too.
The Massachusetts Wildlife Department offers a useful Homeowner’s Guide to Bats that offers information on what to do if a bat gets in your house, signs that a bat colony might be inhabiting your attic, advice for how to get rid of a bat colony that has adopted your home as their own, and other bat-related tips and pointers.
One other note about the video on a different topic from the bats: If you have roofers working on your house, make sure that they use safety harnesses or some type of fall protection! While a work injury would typically fall under workers’ comp, as a homeowner, you don’t want to take any chances.